Chamber Staff Will Pocket Lion’s Share of A-Tax Parade Funds

IMG_1190 copyBLYTHEWOOD – Prior to approving the Accommodation Tax Committee’s recommendations to award $20,000 to three organizations for tourism related events, Town Council questioned why $1,845 of the $5,000 requested by the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce for the Blythewood Christmas parade was being designated for the Chamber’s staff.

Mike Switzer, the Chamber’s Executive Director, told members of the A-Tax Committee earlier this month that the staff consisted of himself and the Chamber’s office manager, Kitty Kelly.

“This gives me heartburn,” Councilman Eddie Baughman said. “The Chamber staff is getting 37 percent of the money the Chamber is requesting for the parade. Looking at last year’s parade request, there was no mention of paying or reimbursing Chamber staff for their work on the parade.”

Baughman further questioned whether anyone had been paid to run the Christmas parade in past years.

After learning that Switzer was not present to answer questions, Mayor J. Michael Ross asked Ed Parler, a member of the Chamber Board as well as a member of the parade committee, to explain why the money was being requested to pay the Chamber staff this year. Parler bowed out of the controversy, saying he had not been part of that discussion. Asked by The Voice following the meeting if the Chamber Board had voted for the staff to be paid $1,845 for their parade services, Parler said it had not.

Asked if he was aware that Switzer had included payment for staff in the Chamber’s request for parade funding, Ed Garrison, president of the Chamber, said he was not aware the staff would be receiving payment for their work.

“I thought the funds we were requesting were being used for our actual costs to put on the parade,” Garrison said.

While Council was not able to discern during the meeting exactly how the $1,845 was to be accounted for, Baughman and Councilman Tom Utroska said they would like to see a breakdown of how the payout is going to be spent.

“If we’re paying them salaries for this,” Utroska said, “then I’d just like to know what it’s spent on.”

Ross defended the payment as reasonable.

“A person once approached the Town about managing our parade, and that person said the cost would have been $10,000 – $15,000,” Ross said.

A phone survey by The Voice of municipalities in the surrounding towns of Winnsboro, Ridgeway and the City of Columbia revealed that those parades are run by volunteer committees and that no one gets paid for their services.

In its Request for Funding form, the Chamber noted that 10,000 people are expected to attend the parade and that approximately 5,000 of those would be tourists. Besides the salaries paid to the Chamber staff, other expenses are specified in the award request as: equipment rental, $1,305 (26 percent); marketing and printing, $785 (16 percent); volunteer supplies, $665 (13 percent) and Manor rental, $400 (8 percent).

Phone calls to Switzer were not returned at press time.

Other A-Tax Awards

The Blythewood Historical Society requested $10,000 for a Memorial Day event in coordination with and support of the Town’s display and activities surrounding the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall that will be on display in Doko Park for several days next May. The Society requested $5,000 for a videographer to record various aspects of the event. The remaining $5,000 is designated for preservation and storage of the video and certain equipment, advertising, signage, rental tables and seating and refreshments.

The Blythewood Lions Club requested $3,945 for a full-day bluegrass festival featuring local and statewide musicians and local food vendors in Doko Park, but the A-Tax committee suggested the award should be increased to $5,000 as a buffer for the as yet undetermined cost of bands. The event, which is also a fundraiser for the charitable work of the Lion’s Club, is scheduled for April 30, 2016.

Council voted unanimously to approve all three awards as recommended by the A-Tax Committee.


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